People Told Us The Worst Things A Therapist Ever Did And How It Changed The Way They Felt About Therapy

“It was awful, like my worst fears confirmed, that I’m an unlovable, aging, freak.”

a knife cutting through paper that looks like a speech bubble

Your first experience with a therapist — good or bad — can influence your decision to continue seeking therapy. 

A therapist is someone who is trained to address emotional distress and can often help people find ways to cope with trauma or change the way they are thinking and dealing with daily life.  The percentage of adults who received mental health treatment in the last 12 months increased from 2019 to 2021 from 19.2% to 21.6%, so more people are getting the therapy they need. 

However, therapists are not one size fits all, and it can take some searching to find one with the right approach and style to fit your needs. In fact, switching therapists or withdrawing early from mental health treatment is pretty common. 

Therapists are people too, meaning that they can make mistakes. That said, we asked people to share times when a therapist or psychiatrist said or did something — either made an offensive or inappropriate comment, encouraged harmful behavior, or simply fell asleep — that made them decide to find a new one. (If you want to learn more about what ethical guidelines psychologists comply with, you can read the APA Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct.) 

Don't get us wrong, we love therapy — and therapists! They truly can be lifesavers. But here are a few things that made people walk away from a mental healthcare provider. (Some people preferred to be identified only by their first name or initials to protect their privacy.)

Inappropriate behavior

Inappropriate conduct, including sexually intimate behavior between professionals and their clients, is a serious transgression in the psychology and medical fields. While that didn't happen to Tessa, age 30, her therapist did have a questionable approach in terms of her sex life.

“The very first male therapist I had diagnosed me as a lesbian (literally called it a diagnosis), threatened to emergency petition me to the emergency room because I forgot my SSRI two days in a row, and suggested I try BDSM to take my anger towards men out on other men, all while casually (and frequently) mentioning he was ‘a very open and kink friendly therapist,’” Tessa said. 

Expressing ageist viewpoints

A therapist should be able to help you work through your fears — not make them worse.

Paige, 28, who lives in Birmingham, Alabama, had always wanted to get married and be a mom, but had trouble with intimacy, had a long-time eating disorder, and had never really dated.

“I was seeing my psychiatrist and he asked me if I was dating anyone and I said no, then he asked me if I wanted to get married and I said yes and his response was to tell me that ‘27 is getting on up there, you better hurry,’ and he was not joking,” she said. “It was awful, like my worst fears confirmed, that I’m an unlovable, aging freak.” 

Not listening

Generally, a therapist should be actively listening and refrain from initiating a meeting when there is a likelihood that their personal life or problems might interfere with their work. 

“The first red flag was when she started unloading her dishwasher while on the phone with me,” Emily, 31, from Birmingham, Alabama, said. “Now up to this point, she would often walk her dogs while talking to me, nbd. Then she started answering other calls and asking if she could call me back which would result in lost session time. She took calls from her office, other patients, and even an electrician. It got to a point where I felt even more worthless than I already felt, because the person I was paying attention to, wasn’t.”

Falling asleep during sessions

Anyone can nod off, but if it happens repeatedly, it’s a problem — and they certainly shouldn’t blame it on you.

“I once had a therapist who fell asleep on three different occasions while I was talking,” Andrea, 32, from New York City, said. “The first time it happened, she said it was because her office was too warm and it was making her drowsy. After the second and third times, she eventually said that it was because she thought I was beating around the bush in explaining my feelings and wasn't very emotive when I spoke.”

Encouraging potentially harmful behavior

Therapists should be working to resolve or work through what clients are hoping to achieve in therapy — so they probably shouldn’t be recommending you take harmful substances or engage in dangerous behavior. 

“I am an addict in recovery. At the time I had about four years clean,” CG, 30, from Missouri, said. “He asked me if I had ever thought about drinking again and suggested that I do a thought experiment where I consider it.”

Like CG, Paige, 30, was told on several occasions to drink to help with severe panic attacks during the pandemic. 

“My therapist of over 10 years told me on several occasions to ‘have a drink or two’ to help me calm down,” Paige said. “This was after we spent years working through why I have severe anxiety — which happens to be driven by the fear of losing control.” 

Giving the wrong kind of medication

In general, therapists — who are often psychologists, licensed clinical social workers,  or marriage and family therapists — are not able to prescribe medication themselves. But they often work with a psychiatrist or other medical doctor to prescribe drugs when necessary. 

It’s important to have a thoughtful conversation with a therapist about any medication you are prescribed, and to have ongoing monitoring and reassurance that the medicine is still appropriate and helpful.

I was 15 when I first visited a psychiatrist because I had extremely severe depression. Once a week I would go there and share my thoughts and feelings. At first, she gave me a bunch of Xanax and told me to pop one every time I wasn't feeling well (which was all the time),” Erofili, 21, from Athens, Greece, said. “I would sleep 18, 20 hours a day. I repeat, I was only 15! Finally, in less than a month, she told me herself that she was afraid of me and she didn't know what to do with me and that I should look for another therapist.”

Imposing their religious views

While everyone is entitled to their religious beliefs, mental health professionals should take a patient's spirituality and beliefs into consideration and only address them in therapy if it makes sense for the individual. 

Meg, 25, from Manchester, New Hampshire, decided to go to therapy after being diagnosed with OCD and experiencing suicidal ideation

“I finally realized it was not normal, and made an appointment with a nurse practitioner to get set up with a diagnosis, therapy, and possibly medication,” Meg said. “Instead of explaining what I was feeling was OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder), I was asked if I had grown up religious. She then told me that I needed to start praying multiple times a day to ‘reconnect with God’ and so the feelings would go away.”

Lacking cultural sensitivity

Microaggressions are statements that can create an unwelcoming environment through insensitive remarks, minimizing cultural experiences, or pathologizing cultural values. Kathryn Lloyd, 20, from Colorado, said it happened to her.

“I was going through a really intense culture shock, as relocating from a tight-knit, predominantly Hispanic community to a predominantly white city where I knew nobody was incredibly stressful,” Lloyd said. “Every single week I would talk with her about new things that made me homesick and miss my community to the point that I would cry every single day, and every single time she would tell me I just needed to be more open-minded and try to experience new things outside of my comfort zone and would dismiss my talking points by insinuating I was being overdramatic while using a judgy condescending tone.”

Making insensitive comments 

Adam Cook, 32, from Los Angeles, told BuzzFeed News about his experience with a therapist when he was 22 and talking about coming out to his parents. 

“I started seeing a therapist who I sought out and chose, and who was, at first, very helpful,” Cook said. “Over the month or so that followed though, she would make these odd comments… I started leaving the sessions feeling really bad, but I stayed because she was the professional, and she had been right about other things. I knew it was time to stop seeing her when she told me, ‘Your parents wake up every morning wishing you weren’t gay. You probably do too.’”

Not providing support

Jillian Rautenstrauch, 45, from Western New York, shared how her therapist made assumptions based on her gender. 

“At the first appointment, I tried to explain my concerns about juggling my high-stress job, a second kid, house, marriage, etc.,” Rautenstrauch told BuzzFeed News. “After blubbering for probably too long, her first input was ‘Well, in all honesty, women really can’t have it all. Something will suffer, so let’s work together to find out if it will be your job or your children.’ Somehow I made it through my 45 minutes, and never went back again.”


Like other harmful behaviors, commenting on a person’s body can do more harm than good. 

“I have struggled with an eating disorder since I was in high school,” Janell, 32, from Pennsylvania, said. “I didn’t actually speak with a doctor about seeking help for it until more recently, and my male psychiatrist at the time (who I have since fired) told me that if I just saved up some money and got a tummy tuck, all of my problems would be solved.” 

How it’s affected views on therapy 

One in five clients will drop out of therapy before treatment is complete. For those we talked to, most decided to fire their therapist and look for a new one. For others, it took a while until they were able to try therapy again. 

“I haven’t been back to a therapist since then, so what does that say?” Janell said. “It’s so hard when you’re seeking help, and someone who is supposed to be so important and knowledgeable just puts you down and is insensitive instead of trying to understand why you feel that way. I am a believer in therapy, but I have spent years trying to find a therapist who I feel I have a genuine connection with that I can trust to be open to. It can be so helpful yet so damaging at the same time if you’re being seen by the wrong person. 

Despite the advice CG received during therapy, she reminds us that “everyone is human and they may make mistakes.”

“You are always allowed to seek a new therapist (although I know doing so can be difficult for many reasons — money, availability, etc.). If you can't switch and someone says something which is counter to your beliefs — try and just take what you need and leave the rest.” 

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